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Children can learn so much through play. Unstructured play benefits kids' mental and physical health; it helps them make sense of the world around them through teaching boundaries and social interactions; and it's even good for you, too, mama. But how many toys do your little ones really need? And which ones will get played with the most?

When choosing toys for your baby+ toddler, we like the less-is-more Montessori-inspired approach: fewer, higher quality toys, each with a purpose, made from mostly natural materials, that can grow along with your child. Clutter can be overwhelming for little ones, and the science tells us that children play longer and more happily with less toys.

We've chosen nine Montessori-inspired toys that will inspire imagination and encourage open-ended play from the baby years through toddlerhood + beyond. Your littles will come back to these toys again and again.

1. Wooden barn + animal figurines

Realistic play is one of the tenants of Montessori-based education; it helps children relate to and understand the world around them and develop meaningful connections.

This beautiful wooden play barn and seven realistic animal figurines will capture the imaginations of babies, toddlers, + preschoolers alike. It even folds and features a carry handle for easy take-along play!

Melissa & Doug Fold & Go Barn + 7 Animal Play Figurines
$49.99, Target

2. Double-sided easel

Let your little artist's creativity flourish with this wooden double-sided easel that will take her from first scribbles to preschool masterpieces! This simple yet functional easel features a chalkboard, a whiteboard, a refillable paper dispenser, and two trays for storing paints and other art supplies. It's sure to become a playroom staple.

Kidkraft Deluxe Wood Easel
$103.34, Amazon

3. Rainbow stacker

This rainbow may look basic, but through the eyes of your child, it offer endless opportunities for imaginative play! From early concepts like color identification and developing fine motor skills, to more advanced concepts like building, nesting, and pretend play, this simple, colorful—and so, so beautiful—heirloom-quality puzzle stacker will quickly become a playtime favorite. It's also available in a 12-piece larger size.

Grimm's 6-Piece Rainbow Stacker
$42.95, Amazon

4. Sensory table

Exploration + activity are two important pieces of the Montessori philosophy—little hands should be encouraged to sort, pour, scoop, and empty with all kinds of liquids and materials. This handcrafted sensory table made from natural pine is a great way to check all of those boxes and contain the mess 😉 It can be filled with sand, rice, or even hold trays of water for years of sensory play. It can even be personalized!

Threeman Products Wooden Play Table
$159.99, Etsy

5. Musical instruments

Watch even the tiniest baby react to music and you'll immediately realize the powerful impact it can have on social, emotional, + cognitive development. We love the huge variety of instruments in this 15-piece set, with everything from egg shakers for the littlest musicians to a xylophone and finger castanets for the preschool crowd. Sorry, earplugs not included 🤣

Smart Wallaby 15-Piece Musical Instruments Set + Carry Bag
$32.99, Amazon

6. Classic wagon

Radio Flyer wagons have been around for decades—and for good reason. They're beautiful, fun, and functional, and can be enjoyed by babies + toddlers alike. We love the early walker take on this one, featuring "resist push" that allows beginning walkers to safely build confidence + balance. (We also love the furniture-friendly bumpers!) After once little one learns to walk, he'll find still find lots of other uses for this classic toy.

Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon
$63.59, Walmart

7. Fun furniture

Is it a couch? A bed? A spaceship? Or a castle? Only your little one will know the answer! Encouraging open-ended play is a Montessori must—and this ingenious kid-sized "couch" with four separate foam pieces offers endless play possibilities. Your little one will love that it's fun, soft, and endlessly rearrange-able, and you'll love that it's safe, free of harmful chemicals, and machine washable.

The Nugget
$229.00, Nugget Comfort

8. Ramp racer

There's a simple delight in watching objects speeding down a ramp, and that joy is not lost on this classic toy. This ramp racer is not only fun, but teaches fine + gross motor skills, cause and effect, hand-eye coordination, and much more. Babies will laugh as the cars speed down the ramps, while toddlers + older kiddos will love engaging in pretend play and racing their cars over and over again.

Ever Earth Jr. Ramp Racer
$27.98, Amazon

9. Soft blocks

Blocks are the ultimate in Montessori must-haves; they teach endless developmental concepts and provide hours upon hours of creative, open-ended play opportunities. For a different take on the classic block set that babies + older kiddos will love, we can't get enough of this set of oversize foam blocks. Made from soft, durable foam, your little ones will love building, stacking, and most importantly knocking down these super fun blocks for years.

Soft Zone Toddler Blocks$55.88, Amazon

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Sometimes it can feel like toys are a mama's frenemy. While we love the idea of entertaining our children and want to give them items that make them happy, toys can end up taking the joy out of our own motherhood experience. For every child begging for another plastic figurine, there's a mama who spends her post-bedtime hours digging toys out from under the couch, dining room table and probably her own bed.

Like so many other moms, I've often found myself between this rock and hard place in parenting. I want to encourage toys that help with developmental milestones, but struggle to control the mess. Is there a middle ground between clutter and creative play?

Enter: Lovevery.

lovevery toys

Lovevery Play Kits are like the care packages you wish your child's grandparent would send every month. Expertly curated by child development specialists, each kit is crafted to encourage your child's current developmental milestones with beautiful toys and insightful activity ideas for parents. A flip book of how-tos and recommendations accompanies each box, giving parents not only tips for making the most of each developmental stage, but also explaining how the games and activities benefit those growing brains.

Even better, the toys are legitimately beautiful. Made from eco-friendly, sustainable materials materials and artfully designed, I even find myself less bothered when my toddler leaves hers strewn across the living room floor.

What I really love, though, is that the kits are about so much more than toys. Each box is like a springboard of imaginative, open-ended play that starts with the included playthings and expands into daily activities we can do during breakfast or while driving to and from lessons. For the first time, I feel like a company isn't just trying to sell me more toys―they're providing expert guidance on how to engage in educational play with my child. And with baby kits that range from age 0 to 12 months and toddler kits for ages 13 to 24 months, the kits are there for me during every major step of development I'll encounter as a new mama.

So maybe I'll never love toys―but I will always love spending time with my children. And with Lovevery's unique products, mixing those worlds has become child's play.


This article was sponsored by Lovevery. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Breastfeeding is not easy. But neither is weaning. That's why this powerful photo from Brazilian mama Maya Vorderstrasse is going viral. Her husband captured the first time she ever breastfed their second daughter and next to it, almost two years later, the last time she fed their daughter from her breast.

And it's not just the photo that is powerful. In her caption Maya shares her emotional struggles with weaning and the tricks they used to make this transition easier for their youngest daughter. The caption reads:

"The first and last time my precious daughter ever nursed.

I didn't know that one person could feel so proud and so broken at the same time, right now I am a hormonal, emotional, and mental mess.

Raising my arm in this picture was very difficult for me as I had to fight through uncontrollable tears: this picture meant that I would never breastfeed my daughter ever again. I have been nursing for so long, that I don't know what it's like to not nurse anymore.



As I looked behind the camera, my husband is crying like I had never seen him cry before, like seriously, a deep gut cry. I was her comfort, her safe place, and I hope she still finds me that way. A month shy of 2 years old, she finally has a bed in a shared bedroom with her sister. We bought her her first bed, used any distraction we could come up with, snacks and new toys to keep her mind off of it.

My husband has taken over bedtime completely, including all nighttime wakings. We are on our third day, and every day gets a little bit easier. The guilt I feel for not putting her to bed is so intense and I can't wait to go back to it once she doesn't ask to nurse anymore. Closing a chapter is painful, but I am hopeful that this new season of our lives will also be special in its own way.

Through this maturation step she will not only grow more independent, but I will get a much needed break. She unlatched for the last time and sobbingly I said to my husband: "I did my best". He hugged me and responded with: "No. You did THE best, because you gave her your all". I love my family and am so thankful for such special and unforgettable moments like these. 💛

*my lazy boob has no clue about what's going on, but thoughts and prayers are accepted for my good one, I really think it might explode🤱🏻

**thank you to my husband, for insisting on filming this, I will treasure this forever.🤳🏼👩"

You've got this mama!

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If you're looking for basics for the kids for summer, you're in luck, mama. Primary clothes don't have logos or sparkles—they're classic prints and colors that can easily transition from one kid to the next. And this week, Primary is celebrating the new season with a major summer sale.

Items, like swimsuits, dresses, polos and more, are over 50% off. Most pieces are under $10 so you can stock up on an entire new wardrobe without breaking the budget.

Here's what we're adding to our carts—shop the entire sale here:

1. Baby rainbow stripe rash guard

With UPF 50, you can rest easy knowing baby has extra protection outdoors.

$14.50

SHOP

2. The track short

The easy pull-on waist will make outfit changes a breeze.

$10.50

SHOP

3. Rainbow stripe one-piece

Cute? Check. Will stay in place? Check. UPF 50? Check.

$18.00

SHOP

4. The short sleeve twirly dress

Made of 100% cotton jersey, this one will be a staple all summer long.

$10.00

SHOP

5. The polo babysuit

Perfect to dress up or down.

$8.00

SHOP

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Being an adult is no joke. Beyond dressing ourselves and our kids and, ya know, feeding and bathing everyone, there are so many other things that life throws at us. And because we're adults, we have to take care of these myriad to-dos. Welcome to: Adulting!

I'm not just talking laundry, filling up your car's gas tank and stocking the fridge with groceries. Getting life insurance. Refinancing your loan debt. (Students loans? Us, too.) Marriage counseling. Yep—I'm talking about all the cringe-inducing to-dos that you've likely been putting off for a few months… or years.

But guess what? Because it's 2019 and a little something called technology exists, these seemingly heavy-lift tasks are now a whole lot easier and faster to tackle. Here's how to check off your most tedious adulting chores.

The life insurance

When you're a single with no descendants, life insurance doesn't seem like a top priority. But when you suddenly have a kid (or three), setting your family up for longterm financial success is a must. And thanks to Ladders, obtaining a policy isn't the taxing, cringe-inducing process it used to be! Modern and so easy to use—seriously, you can even get one from your phone or tablet—Ladders makes it possible to obtain a policy in under five minutes. Yes, really. See? No need to procrastinate!

SHOP

The student loan redux

You have the degree and the career—and you also have the debt. And like us, you're likely just paying your monthly minimums without a thought to ever refinancing your student loans. Because that sounds hard and complicated, right? Right. Not so with help from Laurel Road, however. On this straight-forward site you can check your rates in only a few minutes —fear not, doing so won't impact to your credit score!—and refinance your debt, saving yourself (and your family) thousands of dollars.

SHOP

The marriage counselor

Did you know that 66% of couples report a drop in marital satisfaction when new arrives? It's not surprising considering the stress an infant creates for mamas alone, but all that pressure affects your relationship, too. But taking the time to really invest in marriage counseling often falls to the bottom of the to-do lists because of the many hurdles—finding a therapist, traveling to appointments, the cost of copays or out-of-pocket fees, the stigma of need therapy. With Lasting, however, you and your partner pair your apps and can begin working on your relationship together on your own timeline.

SHOP

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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A lot of women are literally walking around in fashion mogul Jessica Simpson's shoes, but there was no way she was going to be getting her feet into any of the footwear with her name on while she was pregnant.

A few months ago, back when she was still super pregnant with her third child, Simpson posted a photo of her left foot on Instagram and honestly, just looking at it was painful.

"Any remedies?! Help!!!!" she captioned the pic of her incredibly swollen ankle and foot. Thankfully, now that she's in her fourth trimester and no longer pregnant, Simpson's feet have chilled out. She posted a new pic with the caption: "I spy....my ankles!!!!

Before + after

The commenters on Instagram are now as happy for Jessica as they were were as shocked back when she posted the first foot photo.

"Omg Jessica call your Dr. Keep feet up lower salt intake and no heels," one wrote (although the last bit seems like it probably wouldn't be an option even if she wanted to wear them).

Calling the doctor is not a bad idea if your foot look's like Simpson's before photo, because swelling during pregnancy can be a sign of preeclampsia, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation, which notes that "a certain amount of swelling is normal during pregnancy," but suggests that moms-to-be watch out for "pitting edema" (which means that when you press on the skin an indentation stays for a bit) and leg discoloration.

"If you suspect this kind of edema, notify your healthcare provider. You should also put your feet up every day, but avoid sitting for extended periods of time," the foundation states on its website.

What mamas need to know about swollen feet

Simpson took her swelling with a sense of humor, posting a before and after pic of some super high wedges and her swollen pregnancy foot with the caption #tenyearchallenge, but swelling can be serious in pregnancy.

It can be related peripartum cardiomyopathy a rare kind of heart failure that can develop in the last month of pregnancy or in the first five months postpartum, but, according to the the American Heart Association, isn't easy to diagnose as the symptoms (like swollen ankles) are also symptoms of third trimester pregnancy.

So swelling is something to watch and definitely talk to a health care provider about—but it also happens in many uncomplicated pregnancies, as a lot of Jessica's IG followers pointed out. "That happened to me with my 1st pregnancy. Lots of elevation for my feet and fluids. Watch the sodium intake. Hang in there," one mama wrote, throwing in a 💞 emoji.

Jessica Simpson just launched a collection of flats 

Another commenter offered a funny story to put Jessica at ease: "My feet looked like this the last month of my pregnancy (if not worse) and I had normal BP and didn't have preeclampsia. I'm 5'0" and retained so much water. My OB-GYN at the time (a 65 year old man) told me that I had what he called "Fiona feet"....yep, the ogre from Shrek. Yep. 🤦🏼♀️ Needless to say, I switched doctors after my daughter was born."

Jessica Simpson's shoe collection currently includes a wedges, booties and a gorgeous stacked stiletto, and she recently launched a collection of flats, which should be helpful to all the mamas-to-be who have swollen feet (although not as swollen as hers were, she should design an extra-wide slipper for that season of life).

[A version of this post was originally published January 11, 2019. It has been updated.]

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